A/N: Ok, I'm really, really rushed here, so I'll make it quick. THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who reviewed or faved or even just read the story, it means a lot, really! Woo! Anyways, under normal circumstances I'd babble at each individual reviewer until they begged me to stop, but it's almost midnight and already running on borrowed time and patience. So, sorry, I swear I'll make up for it next chapter! Ooh! And isn't this nifty, I broke the 10,000 word mark! Go me!

And read Mikenno's: The Will of Kingdom Hearts! I command you! Cos it's really, really super-good... In fact, probably better than this is! Doesn't mean you get to not read Sideways, but... y'know, when you're done, and if you feel like reading something else... Yes... that'll work...

Warnings: Slight Sora molestation, (I swear he likes it!) cameos from Rikku and Gippal (FFX-2) and Professor Cid with a harpoon. Hopefully he doesn't use it on anyone... Very little by way of plot development, but there's some relationship progress and some daft (not filler) humour. Also, there is some slight Riku-bashing (physical bashing, Riku's too cool to be heartlessly mocked). If I've forgotten anything, meh, I hope you'll get over it, lol.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own anything by Disney or Squenix, or Cabbage Patch Kids, or stingrays, or Hell's Grannies, or Battenberg... Dear Lord that sounds random... Oh well!

Chapter Two: It came from the Cabbage Patch

Somehow, although the methods as to how and my eventual success are lost to the vast archives of time immemorial, I managed to flee from the unexpectedly oppressive, cloying pocket of stagnating space that seemed to be slowly questing out from the centre of the ice cream parlour.

If we're venturing into the world of the term of the layman, then it'd probably be clearer to merely state that I legged it, away from Sora and his unforeseen proclivity for a heady combination of sugar and saliva. The latter of which being exclusively mine… leading to the unneeded loquaciousness, convoluted sentence structure and higgledy-piggledy syntax, seeing as I'm prone to babbling when the only alternative is to actually address profound issues of scariness and mind-numbing terror.

So, presently I was cowering on some indiscriminate street corner, blushing harder than I had assumed was actually possible. Closely following the potentially overused defence that I was Riku, possessed of an unflappable demeanour and a smirk for every undesirable situational development, I attempted to poignantly ignore such a development.

However, as usually proved to be the case, an altogether damnably conditioned response in my humble opinion, I was forced to reiterate a plethora of curses in various languages and dialects, directly aimed at my regrettably alabaster skin.

Sometimes, it was difficult being the only creature on some sort of paradisiacal desert oasis seemingly lacking in melanin, especially when standing next to someone as bronzed and sun-kissed as Tidus, although the ridicule and enforced segregation tactics had died down some in recent years.

Conversely, now that I think about it, even in the present day, I would be left with the lingering impression that the majority of my rigorously controlled circle of friends were still wary of my ivory skin and the argent strands of my hair.

As children, they had thought me a sort of ethereal changeling child; novel and undeniably fascinating, but threatening nonetheless, despite the fascination it evoked with its curious, preternatural appearance. The barren islet I resided upon had therefore suited all involved, as it served as both a haven and a cage.

I guess my faithfulness stems from further insecurities at being accepted… Comprehension never seemed to have fully dawned on Sora, as he eagerly embraced me as an idol, sibling and rival, blissfully unaware of my apparent stigma, blithely overlooking that I did not share the golden glow emitted by his skin.

I wasn't quite sure if I felt more amused or saddened by the fact that the dippy brunette, oblivious as always, seemed to have tripped over his colossal feet, tumbling sideways into the barricades I had so diligently constructed about my fragile heart, shattering the fortification that sealed my every dark and desperate yearning, locking out human kindness all the while. Subconsciously he had set up shop in the recesses of such a dim and barren place, as if he owned it, which was typical of the boy's never-ending audacity, and had never returned the conjectural deed that he had so unwittingly stolen.

"Geez Riku, you're thinking so hard I'M the one getting the headache…" A bubbly voice cheerfully interrupted my soul-searching, and had I not been so desperately attempting to hide my blushing countenance, I would have given the little brunette an almighty scowl for distracting me from my interior monologue.

"And how does that work?" I drawled snidely, seeing no reason to act charitably, seeing as benevolence on my part usually led to gratification of the touchy-feely kind, which was bad on so many levels right now.

"I dunno… Via osmosis or something…" He shrugged carelessly, earning a tortured groan in response.

"How are you passing biology again?" I asked dryly, rolling my eyes heavenwards as if some higher power was at liberty to disclose such sensitive information.

"My super-smart tutor volunteered to lend me his aid. Apparently he was noble enough to deign me a worthy cause." He replied cheekily, deft, pink tongue poking out from between plush lips as he pulled down one of his eyelids.

The blush came back with a vengeance.

I was able to see splotches of vermillion dancing across my collar bones from the corner of my eyes, as at present I was suddenly oh-so-preoccupied with staring at my shoes.

Shoes were safe, unassuming, and decidedly un-sexy.

Sure, they had tongues as well, but they were not employed in acts of wanton seduction, seeing as they were made out of… oh, I don't know, nylon maybe… something inorganic and about as arousing as a cat-tent at any rate.

"After a healthy amount of blackmail and untoward threats to my person." I finally managed to reply, wincing at the memory of Sora mischievously brandishing a box of enough photographic evidence to kill my social life stone dead. Probably enough to just plain kill me stone dead, judging by the sheer volume of the box and the sheer volume of pain it invoked when the klutz dropped the damned thing on my poor, battered toes.

"Ah, it must have been chemistry where you agreed to assist me of your own free will." He concluded smugly, completely unrepentant that in order to enlist me in order to champion yet another of his academic causes, the previous incident had involved causing a scene in an entirely too public place.

"Nope, that time you accused me of statutory rape, whilst mournfully squawking like some featherbrained harpy: 'Don't you love me anymore?' An old lady proceeded to bludgeon me half to death with her handbag, which I still insist was stuffed chock full of bricks, outside of a 'Help the Aged' storefront." I grumbled, much to Sora's amusement, if his giggles at my expense were to serve as any sort of indication.

"Physics?" He questioned innocently, before turning that wicked, knee-liquefying grin on me again.

"You threatened to tell Selphie that I'd lost my mind and had just up and decided to share a paopu fruit with her." I shuddered, not wanting to ever have to entertain the notion of being romantically linked with the female equivalent of the Energizer Bunny for the rest of eternity.

"English then…" He stated; although the comment sounded oddly hopeful, which signified that the manipulative little wench obviously thought I was masochistic enough to peruse the battlefields that were substituted in lieu of recognised prose, or the massacres that contained his inimitable style of grammar bloodbaths.

"Not even for the sun, moon and stars, could you bribe me to titivate your forays into desecrating language." I snarled, subtly restraining my internal Grammar Nazi, who at this point was issuing a call to arms.

Sora merely pouted morosely, before seizing my slender wrist in the grip of one mutant hand. I really hoped he hadn't decided that we were going to go play in traffic 'til I submitted. I was promptly dragged along the street, despite how hard I was digging my heels into the cracks of the pavement.

Since when had Sora deposited some muscle onto those stick thin girl-arms of his anyway?

"Around the same time that you started experimenting with growth hormones and steroids." He replied snippily, releasing my sore wrist as I was left, gaping stupidly in shock and indignation. Upon regaining my sensibilities, although the observation, though completely untrue, was still smarting, I sprinted to catch up with his retreating form, hooking an arm about his chest and tugging as hard as I could to bring the boy to a grinding halt.

"Problems with using my 'inside voice' aside, if you're insecure about being a runty little midget with all the upper body strength of a pre-pubescent girl, don't take it out on me." I growled into his hair, curling the hand clutching at the brunette's shoulder into a claw. "Especially not when I'm offering you a compliment." I concluded sulkily, scooping the fuming boy up, rotating my burden one hundred and eighty degrees in my arms before placing him back on his feet to gaze into his narrowed eyes, blazing with an icy blue fire.

"You think I'd be grateful to be informed that I have bony girl-arms?" He demanded petulantly, apparently more than slightly dubious.

"I never said that the compliment was an obvious one. You've got to search for it, like finding a diamond in a lump of coal. D'uh…" I declared haughtily, hoping the pouting brunette would buy the impromptu lie.

"You really think I'm strong?" He asked in a small, whiny voice, as if practically begging me to agree with his assumption.

"But of course, albeit deceptively so… You're still nowhere near a match for me though, so don't get cocky." I grinned in a manner I hoped was roguish and debonair, before ruffling Sora's cinnamon-tinged spikes affectionately as he scoffed arrogantly.

"I guess that means that I should stop going easy on you." He teased, pulling a face that could only be described as comical, as opposed to the desired label of pant-wettingly scary.

"So, that means I'm forgiven, right?" I grinned pleadingly, deliberately ignoring the little obnoxious voice inside my head that tacked an: Again… onto the end of the question.

"Only if you improve my coursework to such an extent that the sheer badness of it all doesn't cause ocular bleeding to all those who attempt to read it." He decided, after a short period of deliberation as to how he was going to blackmail me to win back his fickle affections.

"Sora, it's a critical essay with a pathetically low word count, not the Necromonicon." I scolded gently, before bursting into giggles at the unintended pun. An indeterminate amount of seconds later, I realised that Sora didn't seem to be jointly participating in my brief moment of levity. The laughter was consequently replaced by a churlish atmosphere of sullen silence.

I wrenched the pen out from where it had been residing in one of the shallow pockets of my jeans and began to furiously scrawl the key words from my inspired display of wit across the back of my left hand. Hopefully they'd serve to act as a trigger and I'd be able to recount my inadvertent act of comedic genius to Leon, who would no doubt appreciate the humorous retelling far more than Sora, most likely because he would actually understand the reference.

"I don't think I get it…" The brunette mumbled sheepishly, hiding his face in his hands when I patronisingly ruffled his uncontrollable spikes after depositing the trusty biro back from whence it came. Happy that my hypothesis had indeed been accepted as unquestionable verity, I decided to enlighten the perplexed brunette, seeing as if I didn't, the tenacious cherub would single-mindedly attempt to wheedle the information out of me, and the boy became truly demonic when someone obstructed him on the path towards any particular goal.

Honestly, if I just clarified the whole situation, our time expenditure would be nicely economised, and I probably wouldn't end up being savaged or force fed by an old person. That really ranked pretty high on the list of all time harrowing as hell moments.

It hadn't helped that Sora had barely reached my shoulders at the time, even including his hair to add to his overall height, which formulated one rather twisted equation… well, that and the fact that even to this day he could easily pass for a seven year-old.

I must have come across as a very, very bad man in that mall… Having the little kid brother stereotype suddenly glomp me, crystal tears in his impossibly large eyes, wailing that he: 'did so have stamina like the big people…'

The disapproving, judgementally horrified glares that had come my way after that little stunt had only intensified when he started to clamber up my body like I was made from climbing ivy, shrugging carelessly and explaining that his legs weren't long enough to make me: 'feel yummy' when I squawked indignantly at being used as mountaineering practice terrain.

After shooting him an initial perturbed, confounded glance, I began to stutter, in a strained, desperate whisper that his legs were: 'very… er… shapely', before pleading with him to get the hell off.

His response had been to lock his slim, delicate ankles –with no little difficulty, because he was wearing those gargantuan bubble shoes which were acting as a lot more of a hindrance than a help- over my hips, pulling his body flush against mine with a brutal crushing force.

He'd bolted like a traitorous, startled rabbit when that old lady came down on me like a ton of righteous bricks, half of which I'm SURE were in her damned handbag, screeching of public displays of affection and abusing the super-powers bestowed upon me by the wisdom of age and the prowess of hypothalamus-secreted growth hormone.

Sora was offered a slab of Battenberg by the suddenly bipolar old biddy, who eagerly accepted her condolences as I was left to bleed to near-death on the tiles. Petty revenge was served when she zoned in for a toothless, sloppy kiss followed up by a claw-like pinch-fest levelled upon Sora's chubby cheeks.

Then, she flew off into the night, crocheted biker shawl wrapped around her birdlike shoulders, flapping in the breeze as she gunned the powerful engine of the motorcycle she'd just hotwired.

Ok, fine, fine, that didn't actually… happen, per se, but the bit with the chequered cake, which looked like the Easter bunny had exploded all over it and the office executives proceeded to market the misfortune as icing, is actually true, disturbingly enough. Not the Easter bunny bit though, cos that would be, as Cloud so elegantly puts it: ew…

Back-pedalling and babbling aside, the majority of that particular tangential aside was entirely factual, just don't ask me why the crazy old lady was ferrying slices of cake about with her in portable Tupperware containers.

I suppose the physical violence had been for the best though, in hindsight, seeing as there was really nothing like implementing the righteous fury of the elderly to curb physical 'enthusiasm'. I doubted I would have felt all that comfortable explaining to the clueless boy just what was pressing into his thigh…

In my defence, being just shy of fifteen means you're just entering the phase when your hormones have gone so haywire that even a lamp-post seems able to inflame sexual ardour… god, maybe even table-legs when wildly erotic fantasies have been staved off for longer than five minutes.

If we're being brutally honest, things haven't really changed all that much when it comes to prolonged Sora touchy-feely-ness. My reactions certainly haven't, that's for damned sure… The only difference I can immediately think of is that my voice has actually decided to pick one octave and stick to it when I squeak girlishly in fright, shock and desire.

It was unsurprising that the little brunette had picked up on my sudden reticence, resultant from spacing out again, despite the fact that he took pride in driving others to distraction, far away from the deep thought processes of even the most strong-willed individual.

His counterattack was swift and merciless.

Clamping his gloved hands either side of my vacant visage, he manhandled me like some sort of meat-puppet mannequin, only ceasing his manoeuvres when my head seemed to be tilted at enough of an angle to adhere to his suddenly perfectionist demands.

Paired orbs of inquisitively amused lapis lazuli clashed with my own muted jade gaze. Sora smiled his most accommodating smile of all the cheesy grins in his extensive arsenal, before hooking his sticky fingers through my lips and pulling hard.

Yelping, not in the most dignified of manners, I staggered back, hopefully away from the wrenching, chocolate coated fingers of doom.

My lips creaked painfully, seeing as with the exception of Selphie, not many people were used to using that many facial muscles to pursue the magical art of coerced beaming, although I severely doubted anyone would ever need to remind Selphie to keep her chin up.

Unfortunately, Sora was loath to release me, and so we remained in our stalemate, Sora snickering like an easily amused child whose attention span derailed at the sight of shiny objects while I simply stood, paralysed like an asphyxiating fish out of water, caught hook, line and sinker.

When the proverbial light bulb sprang into illumination above my pinned head, I attempted to mask the predatory look of triumph that had no doubt sparked in my eyes.

If Sora wanted to act like a child, -and he really, really was, the puerility on display was so much so that I half expected him to persuade me into attempting to pronounce the word 'bucket' just so he could run about, informing random strangers that I'd said a 'sweeeeaaaar'- then I'd beat him at his own game, returning the favour in kind.

"…nnhhh…aaah!" I forced the pleading, agonised whine from my obstructed throat, expelling gasping pants of scalding air that condensed upon the awkwardly tightening hands, the pads of the brunette's fingertips clawing for stronger purchase against my shuddering mouth.

My tongue snaked out to wet my lips, retreating back into my mouth to curl about one trespassing index finger.

Smirking wickedly, I proceeded to apply a heady amount of suction, emitting a satisfied purr when my diligence paid off and the intruding digit became helplessly intertwined with the probing, molten and satiny flesh.

The brunette jerked his presently unfettered hand back so violently I was surprised his shoulder hadn't been wrenched clear of its socket.

One gloved palm was released from my lips with an audibly moist, slurping pop, trailing an insubstantial, iridescent bridge of spun sugar and saliva that led back into the gaping maw of the 'cavern of no return'.

I twisted my head, contorting to invade personal space, cocking a hip to diminish my height, turning a hungry, heated gaze towards the stunned boy, locking our emotionally charged, contrasting stares, barely concealed beneath the thin veil of my eyelashes.

Half-lidded eyes blazing with unrestrained mirth and mischief, cheeks sallow and concave from the force of the enthusiastic devouring of the brunette's saccharine-coated sweetness, the harshness of the planes of my face were painted in stark relief against my fuller, sensuously parted lips, which were presently engulfing more of the remaining digit until movement was totally restricted by the base of the brunette's knuckles.

Sora was rewarded with a prolonged, scraping nip of enamel traversing back along a thin layer of silken skin when he allowed that patented, seductively guileless breathy whimper of his to escape his constricted throat. Fathomless cerulean eyes were now clouded and lust-darkened; flickering at the alien sensations evoked by playfully grazing teeth and stabbing, pointed swipes of a calculated tongue.

"And thus concludes the lesson for today…" I drawled haughtily, after delicately clasping Sora's hand in my own and gently freeing his finger from my mouth. The brunette responded with an uncomprehending, fuzzy stare. "Let's recap then, shall we?" I chuckled, thoroughly enjoying the fact that I'd pushed him even farther than the realms of monosyllabic grunting. "We have learnt that it's not wise to interrupt or prank teacher when he's talking." I dictated pointedly, ticking the statement off on one finger.

"…" The brunette opened his mouth, no doubt to protest or shout at me, before quickly coming to the conclusion that this was probably not the best of ideas. His lips sealed shut, the wall of skin barely able to muffle the jarring sound of his teeth clacking together.

"We have learnt that teacher is extremely witty and intelligent, as he made a delightful pun off of a reference to ocular bleeding, to Grimoires, leading to grammar, the literal translation of the French, leading to the way you leave destitution in your destructive wake in pursuit of the divine understanding of a semi-colon." I chirped; relieved to have finally closed a topic that had been long since abandoned.

"Uh…" Sora, earning himself an eye-roll for already breaking the first rule, remained clueless and disconcertedly aroused, but I was in no mood to break out the hand puppets, so moved the subject matter briskly along.

"Actually relating to your education in English, you have been informed of the dangers of powerful rhetorical devices. The imagery exposed to you today is known as phallic symbolism. Get used to it, for you'll be seeing a lot of each other over the course of your 'education'." I grinned fiendishly, internally deciding to broach ambiguity next lesson, because the metaphysical poets made it oh-so-easy to abuse such literary techniques. "And last but not least: shove something in my mouth again without my express permission and I'll bite it off." I snarled; dissolving into a fit of sadistic giggles as the boy went briefly cross-eyed.

Then again… if he DID ask permission…

I almost choked at the anything but child-friendly image that sailed into my head. Now was definitely not the time for ulterior motives to be surfacing, seeing as the poor, hapless creature was shell-shocked enough as it was without adding to the list of charges and offences.

Sora, on the whole, was about as sexually aware as a plank of driftwood, and that's putting it kindly. I would have no difficulty in accepting the suggestion that the brunette still believed that contented, celibate parents had cheerful bundles of gurgling joy bestowed upon their persons by a freaking stork dropping the bloody things down the chimney flue.

Then again, I doubted most families participating in island life really needed, or indeed possessed, a fireplace, cos it was still a fair sixty degrees on a cold day in winter. Guess the stork had to follow a detour to a nearby vegetable patch in lieu of a more traditional drop-off point.

"That was… enlightening…" Sora, once again able to form coherent words, announced, if only to break the awkward, uncomfortable silence… I responded with a quirk of an eyebrow, as the brunette suddenly became preoccupied with rearranging the baggy material of his daft parachute-pants. Whether he had suddenly become fashion conscious or was just being decidedly… odd… I had no choice but to feel a fearful sort of concern for Sora when he started to vocally praise the lord for the formlessness of it all.

His brief foray into the arts of sartorial feng shui was regrettably unsuccessful, as he finally resorted to jamming his slick, gloved and gleaming hands into the pockets of his traditional vermillion jumpsuit.

Tugging slightly against the fabric, he created three triangular protrusions, as if mimicking the contours of the crown pendant habitually about his slender throat.

Wait a second… three? I know I'm sometimes slightly self-absorbed, but it's far above and beyond the call of the ridiculous to not notice supernumerary limbs… Maybe the space aliens grafted another one on while my back was turned? Or maybe he crazy-glued a prosthetic limb to his stomach by accident… I wouldn't put it past him.

Then again, whatever the hell it is, it's probably too small to be an arm… Maybe a slender hand… Ooh! It could be a lucky monkey's paw! Oh… wait… that's a lucky rabbit's foot… wrong analogy… Aren't monkey paws meant to do acts of unspeakable evil?

Judging by all of the air-headed twists and turns my thoughts are taking, the aliens must have been awful busy to take my brain and reimburse Sora with an extra limb as compensation in such a short period of time.

Hold on there… did it MOVE?

I warily fixed my stare on the questionable object hiding in Sora's parachute pants; skittishly bouncing on the balls of my feet in case it decided to burst through the brunette's stomach and eat and/or tentacle rape me.

I proceeded to curse the day I allowed Selphie and Tidus to coerce me into a sci-fi anime marathon. You just can't sit through one of those movies and leave the room wholesome, unsullied and emotionally unscarred.

This led to the prognosis that I was surrounded by fools, fetishists and mental patients, which in turn said little of a positive nature in regards to my choices when selecting a companion or life partner.

"Riku… could you please stop… staring? It's really not helping." Sora suddenly squeaked, reminding me that I was indeed in the midst of a staring contest with the sticky-outty thing of my potential demise.

"Helping? Helping what?" I queried distantly, still fascinated and determined to diagnose the thingamajigger. Would it be considered rude and politically incorrect if I poked it?

"Oh, come ON, cutie! Just kiss her already!" An unknown, overly girlish voice called out, shattering the tense moment as my gaze snapped up and away from Sora's crotch.

Scanning the immediate area, I identified the interloper as a bubbly blonde, who was practically hanging from a second-storey window by sheer force of will. She seemed to be hooked to the sill by her folded body, the partition bending her into a right angle, the divider between legs and near-bare torso taking the form of an olive green mini-skirt.

Casting my eyes up and down an ominously empty street, I gulped nervously. She hadn't witnessed the sucking and literal navel gazing, had she?

Sora seemed to take the hint, as he pointed stupidly to himself. The random blonde giggled noisily whilst nodding emphatically, wobbling slightly as she loosened her grip on the glass pane to push her blue bandanna back up out of her eyes and into her intricately braided hair.

Huh… at least someone's rooting for me and the silly twit. It's just a pity that we've only earned her support because she thinks I'm a woman…

If Sora tells people about this, the police will never find his body.

"You think I should kiss… Riku?" The brunette asked slowly, mulling the prospect over in his vapid little head as he came to terms with the suggestion.

"No, I think you should kiss HER!" The blonde exclaimed, nearing some sort of hyperactive state of exasperation. "Not to mention the fact that Gippykins'd probably tear you a new one if you tried anything…" She muttered to herself, although the comment was still perfectly audible. I guessed she had the same problems Tidus did with volume control. Standing too close to the boy for extended periods of time often resulted in permanent damage to a person's hearing.

"While we may share a name, I'm fairly sure we don't share a gender…" I stated nonchalantly, feigning ennui as I stole another quick glance at the unidentified trouser-inhabiting object.

It was rapidly diminishing… the blonde girl must have frightened it off…

My female counterpart's golden brows furrowed in consternation for a short, agonising moment before her mouth contorted into a perfect circle of daunted comprehension.

Seconds later she was grinning, wearing the mega-watt smile I had already come to associate her with. Her large, emerald eyes were alive with good humour and a fairly rabid amount of interest.

"I'm so sorry!" She cried, looking utterly unrepentant as she giggled at her slight miscalculation. "It's just, you're so pretty and delicate looking and you have nice, soft, sparkly hair…" She trailed off, entering some mental happy-shiny land populated by glittering objects to amuse the terminally capricious.

"Delicate looking?" I mouthed sulkily, feeling put out enough to pout as Sora hid an evil cackle behind his hands.

"Anyways, apart from having to retract my statement in order to amend my pronoun usage, I think you two should go for it! It'd be pretty hot to watch at any rate!" She giggled again, which was beginning to grate slightly on my nerves. Then again, she knew what a pronoun was, so she couldn't be all bad…

"Um… Er… We really are just… uh… friends… I think if I… kissed him he'd… hit me…" Sora stammered bashfully, an action that I couldn't help but smile affectionately at.

"You're not fooling me for a second, sunshine! I think hitting you would be the last thing on his mind judging by that little display from earlier! I doubt you'd be too averse to the smoochies either, seeing as I can still see your little 'problem' from all the way up here!" She crowed triumphantly, jabbing a delightedly accusing finger in the general direction of Sora's parasitic murder-lump.

"Huh?" I questioned, looking to my companions for any answers they were willing to forward. Sora had a problem? Why would he tell the scary blonde girl what it was instead of me? We were meant to be best friends dammit! And since when did the traitorous bastard start cavorting about with scantily clad super-models?

"Do I have to come down there and give you a briefing on boinking for dummies?" She threatened amusedly, chuckling when Sora blushed like he'd prefer nothing more than to melt into an innocuous puddle and proceed to seep into the cracks in the pavement.

Heck, at least he was attempting to live up to his future mini-self's name… Jealousy temporarily forgotten, I took a stab at trying to define just what the hell 'boinking' meant.

Cloud must have throttled me harder than I'd previously thought… either that or the ice cream had released so many endorphins that this was all just some crazed, sugar-induced fantasy. Maybe Sora and I would ride off into the sunset on a neon purple unicorn with hamburgers for hooves and streamers of bacon for a mane?

"Only if you give me the simplified version… preferably with pictures…" I quipped in reply, pretending to appear disinterested when in reality I was merely clueless and potentially concussed.

"I do have a flip chart, but I'd like to state in advance that my illustrative abilities are somewhat sorely lacking." She giggled, yet again, before cooing at Sora's adorably scarlet countenance. "My stick people are second to none, however, and I'm pretty sure I could whip up some miniature animated feature that would incorporate the majority of the sordid details!" She cheered enthusiastically, leaning back until her balance was so sorely compromised that she tumbled backwards into the building with a muffled screech.

"What just happened?" Sora posed the question in a dumbfounded, apprehensive manner. The only response I felt qualified to give was a slightly baffled shrug.

"I'm ok!" The voice rang out again, although the portentously violent noises, eerily reminiscent of weighty, blunt objects clunking hard against squishy, poorly cushioned items were hardly able to confirm such an outlandish statement.

"I breathe a melodramatic sigh of relief…" I deadpanned, rolling my eyes heavenward as Sora snickered at my attempts to be scathing and aloof.

"I would be much obliged if you were to inform me in the near future of the purpose for your visit, because if you're not distant familial members of the lady you are presently calling on, I may be forced to break your faces." Ah, another new player added to the soap opera that is my tortured existence. Pivoting about on one foot, almost falling face first to terra firma, which meant that the head trauma must have been doing wonders for the regulation of pressure or whatever in my inner ear, my gaze meshed with the narrowed eye, and… eye-patch, oddly enough, of the one that had probably been previously addressed as 'Gippykins'.

"Alas, none of us are related, but we do share a name, which counts for something, right?" I giggled childishly, blatantly ignoring the brunette's expression of fear and awe at my overwhelming confidence… or death wish… Meanwhile, I was just inordinately proud of myself for having quashed the urge to suddenly bellow: "AAAARR!" or some other pirate-related jargon.

"Ah, Strife's friend… I thought I recognised you, you don't see many people with hair that colour." He replied, as I smiled demurely, acceding to the fact that in most instances, my reputation proceeded me.

However, our chances of leaving this encounter unscathed were diminishing by the second, because due to the association with Cloud, not only was the man taller and more heftily proportioned than me, he was also most likely two years older.

"Good one… I'm sure Paine and 'Lai will be thrilled that you've forgotten one of their defining characteristics." Rikku snorted, although she was still pointedly absent from the conversation, and seemed to be resorting to sarcasm due to an ingrained conditioned response to the other blonde more than to any awareness of his actual presence.

"Does Cloud's doppelganger have a name?" He asked patronisingly, discarding Rikku's snide suggestion, drawling out the words with such condescension that even I could probably learn a thing or two.

"Aye! Avast!" The brunette answered eagerly, offering a dippy salute as a form of mortifyingly not savvy greeting. Upon realising his mistake, which had neared proportions of sheer, unadulterated idiocy, he grabbed his saluting hand in his other, using the interlocked body-parts to rather brutally smack himself on the forehead. "I mean… er… greetings and salutations to you, Mr. Gippykins! I'm Sora!" He chirped, before coming to another belated conclusion that his second attempt probably hadn't remedied the first disastrous impression he had put forward to the other man.

"I can only assume you're already quite well acquainted with Rikku then…" He sighed, folding back the material of his patch to reveal another vibrant, ocean-hued eye.

"GIPPAL? Is that you?" The blonde girl shrieked delightedly, practically throwing herself into her window in her haste to greet her… person she shared some sort of strange, unhealthily quirky relationship with.

"The one and only, Cid's Girl!" He responded amusedly, flashing her a killer smile that she seemed totally immune to. "So, you want to tell me why you've picked up two strays from school?" He queried, looking far less intimidating and threatening now that he had seen, judged, and instantly dismissed Sora and I from our previous roles of unsavoury characters or love rivals.

"Hey! You make it sound like I kidnapped them or something!" She hissed indignantly, wheeling out a truly masterful pout that Gippal also seemed well-equipped to instantly nullify.

"I wouldn't put it past you." He chuckled, laughing harder when she emitted an irritated groan.

"Whilst following the routine to the letter, I couldn't help but come across a certain spiky-headed youth getting frisky with his girlfriend in the middle of the street." She commenced her speech in a matter-of-fact tone, conveniently blinking and missing the glare I shot her for the 'girlfriend' comment. "Well, after she had made her move, Puddin' over there gawped like a mongoloid brained with a two-by-four, and seemed to need to be spurred into action to reconcile the new 'difficulties' he was experiencing." She snickered into her hand, the nails of which were painted a garish, fluorescent green. Sora retained his disguise as a tomato, seemingly devastated to have been addressed as 'Pudding'. "So, I took it upon myself as a benevolent member of our budding society to give him that little nudge. Then I found out that 'she' was a 'he', and one of Leon's friends at that! How's that for an awesome coincidence?" She cried exuberantly, flailing her arms about like a psychotic, out of control windmill. "Anyways, you've caught me as I was just about to hand over my newly doodled sex manual! Seeing as Kitty has been living under a rock for all of his sheltered life and isn't aware of the finer points of boinking." She delivered the finishing argument of her closing statement with a flourish, before clambering up onto the window ledge and bodily hurling herself out of the room.

There was little time to do anything apart from gape stupidly; my excuse to this day is that I was still reeling over being called 'Kitty'… the girl really did have a penchant for diabolically unsuitable nicknames…

However, her pirate in shining armour, who seemed worryingly desensitised to the other blonde's antics, lunged forward to catch the squirming bundle of energy, who looked none the worse for wear for someone who had just defenestrated from a considerable height.

"I really wished you'd stop doing that…" He muttered good-naturedly. Rikku merely giggled yet again, before kissing him soundly, whether as a 'hello' or a method of conveying thanks, I had no idea.

"No you don't!" She chirped dismissively. "Anyways, as I was saying, ta-da! Here is my animated guide to the joys of smexin'!" She cheered, thrusting a battered old notepad at me, which was immediately snatched out of the air by Gippal. He set his hyperactive girlfriend down so that he could flick through the pages.

The process seemed to leave him disorientated at first, and then merely nauseous.

"Is that a taeniura lymma getting it on with a sea urchin?" He demanded, apparently baffled as well as disconcerted.

"Whoa… calm down there, Mr. Marine Biologist, I think you killed Puddin'…" She mocked gently, tilting her intricately decorated head towards Sora, who was staring in confusion and mild horror, as seemed to be today's special. "Seeing as I am not a slave to the colossal wants of my equally colossal equal, Gippal seems to think Kitten looks like a blue-spotted stingray… In my defence, the only things that I had to hand were crayons, and the blue dots are meant to be eyes, not markings." She sulked, crinkling her nose in annoyance at the prospect of someone criticising her masterpiece. Why the hell did a… seventeen year-old? Well, she probably would have been if she knew Leon instead of Cloud… where was I? Oh, yeah… Why the hell did a seventeen year-old have crayons in her possession at all, let alone as drawing implements?

Impatient as always, Sora tired of the bantering and snatched the notepad from Gippal, eagerly flipping through the pages of Rikku's so-called 'sex manual'. Honestly… how was something like that going to define the murder-lump of certain death?

The brunette suddenly choked on thin air, or maybe a dust mote, forcing the notepad into my hands so he would never be forced to look upon its raunchy content ever again.

My first thought upon witnessing the jerkily moving cataclysm was that Gippal was exactly right… Sora definitely resembled a sea urchin with legs, and what I assumed was me looked like a formless blob-monster from the fathomless abyss.

The second thought, hot on the heels of the first, was the realisation of just what the brunette had been hiding in his jumpsuit. Initial humiliation aside at not putting something painfully simple together, I actually felt rather smug at my achievement. Take that, world! I can seduce a boy that probably still believes in Santa!

However, there is always an irksome little catch:

"Rikku… why am 'I' the one on the bottom?" I fairly growled, as if willing the blonde sharing my name, if not my common sense, to call me on the 'delicate' comment again.

"Technically you're the one on top." Gippal smirked, having overcome his squicked-out-ness rapidly in order to mock me into the ground.

"I think that's probably more likely because he takes up about three quarters of each page than any real subtlety on positioning." Sora pointed out, entirely unhelpfully.

"First I'm 'delicate', then I'm beyond emasculated, and now I'm an obese stingray?" I practically shrieked, highly displeased by the way the brunette had turned on me. Revenge was in order. "Well fine… just don't forget that you're the one who gets hard thinking about said obese stingray, urchin-boy!" I snarled, folding my arms defensively over my chest as I treated my audience to a fearsome glower. Oh god… 'urchin-boy'? I'm really losing my touch today…

Gippal's laughter ceased abruptly as his breath hitched in surprise, reducing him to pitiful wheezes. Rikku, always unflappable, seemed to be enjoying the spectacle, as she had plonked herself down on the kerb to watch events unfold.

"At least I can do something about it, Kitten!" Sora suddenly exploded with pent up rage. If the sight wasn't just so gosh-darned adorable, and so far short of even slightly menacing, I'm fairly sure I would have been trembling in the boots I would no longer need in order to pursue a career as a sea creature without legs.

"Then are you going to?" I purred deviously, smirking as Gippal took an all too conspicuous step back, away from the schizophrenic madman.

"Ooh! Saucer of milk for the Kitty!" Rikku crowed, keeping up her perpetual giggling as she eagerly awaited the climactic end to the melodrama.

At least Sora really didn't need to resort to parachute-pant rearranging feng shui to suitably align his chi; it seemed to be flowing to all locations without any obstructions whatsoever. I giggled wickedly at the notion, still wholly surprised, and not a little flattered at my discovery.

Now all I needed was the kiss and make-up portion of the afternoon and Leon and Cloud would be given a thank you present as well as a peace offering for sending me out alone with the cute little shrimp.

"Not before the third date, that's for damned sure." The brunette replied blithely, completely unaware that he was now the one that had assumed the role of the traditional female.

"Well there goes my plan to invite you up for coffee." I chuckled, shifting my hips to stand coquettishly, hands on hips and arms akimbo whilst attempting to look put-out.

"Riku, you know I don't like coffee… it's all icky and bitter and… brown…" He moaned pathetically, scrunching up his pudgy face like he'd just bitten down hard on a lemon.

"Is it just because he's about as up on his euphemisms as you are, or do I need to burn my manual before the police find me?" Rikku asked me, finally displaying signs of nervousness as Gippal proceeded to laugh his arse off at her expense.

"A little from Column A, a little from Column B…" Her boyfriend answered smoothly, doubling over with laughter as the crazy girl proceeded to lunge forward, snatching the abomination unto nature out of my hands in order to tear it into a blur of confetti which she then deposited down a nearby storm drain.

"All gone!" She enunciated like a children's presenter high on sugar and happy pills.

"While I am slightly relieved that you steeled yourself against urges that would ultimately lead to pyromania, how the hell would you have actually gone about burning your masterpiece?" I questioned, humour playing about my eyes as I grinned at the mental image of the blonde racing all over town to find a suitable, non-existent fireplace.

"It's not like anyone has much of a need for matches in this place… Unless you're counting the mosquito-repelling tea lights…" She confirmed my suspicions with a laugh, recounting some moment of nostalgia, as Gippal also adopted an amused, impish expression. "You know, what with this place being a: tro-pee-cal island in dee sun, ya?" She giggled as her male audience groaned at the abominable Wakka-impersonation.

"Terrible impressions aside, Rikku's hair has intimate knowledge of said aforementioned tea lights." He chuckled, delivering the clarification despite the inevitable pummelling it was going to warrant from the girl.

While she was undeniably stunning; a bronzed and blonde combination of hard lines and soft cambers, the fighting spark that lay dormant in her emerald eyes and the taut energy of tensed, honed muscle openly declared that she did not appreciate those who underestimated her.

This was indeed proved to be the case when Gippal grabbed the girl in a headlock, pulling her bandanna down over her angrily flashing eyes as he proceeded to give her the mother of all noogies.

In a matter of seconds he was pinned to the tarmac as the other blonde unleashed stinging, elasticised hell on his forehead. She actually seemed to be pulling the strap of the eye patch back, albeit only to release it with a cruel sounding snap, to the cadence of some inane and hideously catchy pop song.

I was overcome by a fit of endearingly juvenile giggles when I heard her singing muted, underlying strains of: "Drink up, me hearties, yo-ho!"

"I would have stepped back inside and 'borrowed' one of Pops' spare lighters. I think he has a stash of them in such vast numbers that they're directionally proportional to the quantity of cancer sticks he purchases." Rikku replied, answering the earlier question matter-of-factly, and rather succinctly, especially due to the fact that the blonde was potentially even more prone to rambling than I was.

Whether by cancelling out an existing debt owed to her boyfriend, or due to a brief moment of charity, Rikku decided that the savaging of Gippal could be put on hold and delayed a while longer, or at least until he committed yet another indiscretion that warranted violence with extreme prejudice.

"Heh… sometimes I can almost believe that he single-handedly keeps every single tobacconist on this island in business." Gippal chuckled ruefully whilst nursing the angrily red mark gracing his forehead, which seemed to be expanding with every second that passed.

"Wow… really? Maybe he'd get along with Professor Highwind!" Sora chipped in, smiling broadly.

It seemed that one of the brunette's ingrained character traits -one of the many that he was as of yet completely unaware of- was to pair up every single inhabitant of the small chain of islands with a likeminded companion. His mission: to spread love, platonic or otherwise, throughout the hearts of all he came across, and good old Cid seemed to be begging to be the little brunette's crowning achievement.

Then again, if my suspicions were even slightly accurate, Sora was in for one hell of a shock. Smoking was a rare and expensive habit here; the activity was frowned upon by the majority of the simple islanders and what tobacco we did have was all imported from elsewhere.

Wherever elsewhere actually was…

When Gippal had let slip the derogatory, hopelessly unoriginal 'Cid's Girl', and I had been fully subjected to Rikku's volatile nature and general crassness, it wasn't hard to forge the links between daddy and daughter.

The shock of blonde hair, the habitual goggles; the only inexplicable aspect of the relationship was how Rikku had somehow turned out so attractive, despite the odds that she should have been born grizzled, stubbly and cursing.

"So, the cantankerous old fart chewed you out too, huh?" Rikku hazarded a knowing guess upon picking up on my telltale shudder. Sora's head snapped up, like a puppy hearing a food-related buzzword, before cocking his head to the side in puzzlement. Maybe I was TOO apt with the puppy comparison… being made aware of the whole 'man's best friend' vibe was getting kinda creepy.

"Tea…" I was barely able to force the fearful, guttural response, hunted eyes scanning the streets nervously now that I KNEW that Professor Highwind could be rapidly closing in on my location from either side, pissed off as always, tea-set in hand.

The blondes dissolved into giggles, or as Gippal would no doubt like to correct, manly, dignified chuckles. Heck, if he was able to withstand the wrath of Cid, I definitely wasn't going to try and cross him. He had to have, like… super powers or something, who's to say he wasn't reading my thoughts RIGHT NOW?

Oh god, it's happening again… Stupid Tidus… Equally stupid Selphie… Curse their hides to Hades, I say! If I ended up huddled up in bed wearing a colander with a tin-foil antenna, rocking back and forth whilst warbling on about the government and midgets with glowing fingertips, I was going to sue every single article of clothing off their treacherous backs for emotional damages!

"He confiscated my ice cream…" Sora murmured forlornly, hanging his head as his face was flooded in disappointment and teenage angst. With an exasperated sigh, I clamped a hand down over one surprisingly well formed shoulder, forcing the boy to turn towards me. Sapphires swimming in a tempestuous sea of salty, attention seeking crocodile tears fixed themselves on my face as I took a feeble stab at the whole comfort nonsense and awkwardly began to pet the brunette's sable spikes.

As if by magic –no doubt a neat trick he had learnt from Ellone, who seemed to have mastered every aspect of the manipulation of weak minded males from about the age of three- the tears instantly dried and the brunette pushed up onto the balls of his feet to nuzzle into my hand, smiling broadly.

"Aww… that has to be one of the cutest sights I've ever seen! He's just like an ickle lion cub!" Rikku squealed; using the still prone Gippal as a springboard in order to jettison towards a now fearful Sora, who neatly sidestepped out of the reach of the girl's grasping hands.

Unfortunately, this meant that I was now the one directly blocking her trajectory, so it will suffice to say that I was the one who ended up sprawled on the cruel, unyielding ground with a ditzy blonde practically glomping all residual air out of my lungs.

"Where does it say in my contract that I have to take speeding bullets for you?" I moaned pitifully, wincing as a bony elbow that did not, to the best of my knowledge, belong to me, jabbed me brutally in my injured side.

"We're best friends, Ri-ku!" He grinned impenitently, nearly purring out the lengthening of my name as he offered a helping hand back to the realm of those able to stand unaided. "You know I'd do the same for you!" He concluded with a giggle, knowing full well that it was nigh impossible to sustain any sort of grudge against him as I took the outstretched palm, locking his fingers around my own.

Rikku was already bouncing back to Gippal, who had also risen, now that the dead weight holding him down was temporarily absent. She seemed totally unfazed by the brief, disastrous encounter, although her boyfriend was shooting me quite the death glare.

"Right, here's how you can return the favour: I need you to stall Long John Silver over there while I skip town." I deadpanned, torn, as always, between sincerity and sarcasm. Rikku giggled, covering her mouth with a delicate hand as she noticed Gippal's expression and my aura of nervousness.

"Behave, Mister, or I'll report you to the old man. He's due back in a few minutes, and it'd be nice if we could have the 'talk' with him doing the mediating." She drawled slyly, obviously entertained by the sensations of panic that accompanied any mention of the mad professor. I had no idea what the 'talk' was meant to be about, but judging by the way Gippal just shrivelled up on the spot, I doubt it possesses many positive connotations.

"You can't let Cid see us in public together! Or at all! He'll KILL me!" Gippal fairly wailed, raking his hands through his increasingly chaotic hair before using his closed fists to begin the process of ferociously ripping tufts straight out of his head.

"That's it Gippal… fight for our love, for it shall triumph in the face of all adversity…" She rolled her eyes at his apparent cowardice, although I felt a grudging sort of admiration for the man on the sole reasoning that he was even willing to risk certain death, let alone consider the notion of assisted suicide.

"But the man has a HARPOON!" The blonde screeched back indignantly. My eyebrows near enough rocketed up into my hairline, and I didn't need to turn to see that Sora's expression would mirror my own.

"So he's a little… overprotective…" Rikku grudgingly conceded. Upon receiving a rather pointed, disbelieving look from Gippal, she giggled sheepishly. "Ok, so he's like a raving psychopath when it comes to his 'little girl'… I'll let you all off the hook if the pair of you get your act together and finish what you started." She decided, before turning away from her boyfriend to smirk mischievously in our direction.

What did we start? We've managed to accomplish very little since departing from school, now that I actually think about it…

"And what if we don't?" Sora demanded snottily, puffing up in righteous indignation to proudly display his resolve.

"Whenever you go to get another ice cream in this town, Professor Highwind will be there… whenever you fancy going out to buy candy, Professor Highwind will be there…" She stated ominously, grinning malevolently when Sora whimpered at the prospect of never receiving a sugar-fix again.

"Ri-ku!" Again with the extended vowel usage! I'll admit that it was kind of cute, but then again, we also weren't five anymore. Dilemmas, dilemmas… "You wouldn't let Professor Cid take my ice cream again, would you?" He pleaded, perfectly circular cobalt eyes expanding to the size of dinner plates as he begged. No man with even a mere shred of kindness in him could refuse those eyes… Damn them, and their hugeness…

"Sora… I…" The eyes, if anything, got even wider. "I promise that I'll keep the sugar safe for you." I sighed, hopelessly defeated once again. Rikku's face fell slightly, while Gippal merely adopted a befuddled countenance.

"Even if you get harpooned?" The brunette asked; wonderment and awe flooding his demeanour.

"Even if I get harpooned… but that's not an invitation to anyone, because I'd really rather not…" I grumbled, internally cursing the fact that my 'feelings' encompassed all aspects of self-sacrifice and devotion. What confused me, though, was the thought that they also didn't seem to be foreign, or newly discovered.

-I would die as many times as it takes, to save him from my darkness.-

Er… what the hell? Everything seems to be sneaking up on me today… though the common theme in motive is apparently to deliver a stunning blow to the head.

But then the brunette was smiling for me, and I almost forgot to breathe, let alone analyse mysterious thoughts and remembrances. Velveteen lips collided with my cheek with all the force of a freight train, which certainly jarred me back into coherence, until my thoughts were suddenly addled and clouded again, the realisation that he'd kissed me having finally sunken in.

My arms awkwardly and automatically came up to steady the boy, who was being irrationally happy for something as frivolous as processed sugar, as he was still babbling cheerfully and clinging to my waist.

Once I had made absolutely sure that the pair of us were not going to land in a tangled heap of limbs and bruises, I set the giddy brunette back on his feet and smoothed down his creasing clothes as best as I was able on such short notice.

The blondes were both grinning madly at the spectacle, enjoying my contented confusion and Sora's affectionate naivety as he continued to prattle on about seemingly anything and everything.

"It's nice that one of you is impulsive, I'd hate to see the pair of you dancing around each other for the rest of your lives." Gippal smiled genuinely, although his eyes contained a hint of sadness, which Rikku also seemed to pick up upon.

"We'll get them together yet, Gippykins, even if we have to cram them into a cupboard and lock the door." She chuckled fondly, taking one of his hands in hers and linking their fingers.

"And if 'Lai ends up dead?" He queried with a knowing smirk.

"Then at least he'll have died in the arms of the woman he loves. And Dr. P will reflect upon her actions long and hard in prison." She decided, before bursting into peals of melodic laughter. While I still had no clue who those people were, Rikku had earlier affirmed that they were fellow albinos, so later on I'd probably attempt to ingratiate myself into their company, if only for someone slightly paler to stand next to. Though not too close to the 'Doctor', she sounded dangerous…

Suddenly, an ominous growling interrupted Rikku's bout of giggling. The noise was rather perturbing, a growing crescendo of gurgles and feral rumblings, sound effects usually tacked onto papier-mâché monsters in cheap horror flicks.

"You couldn't have eaten more than twenty minutes ago…" I callously pointed out to Sora, who was doubled over, apparently famished to the point of near-death.

"That was ice cream, Riku; ice cream is not proper sustenance." The brunette addressed me like I was extremely dull and witless, which I did not take kindly to.

"Well, if that is indeed the case, we'll have to start doing runs to the greengrocer's, and not the ice cream parlour." I drawled matter-of-factly, going so far as to start fiddling with my hair to feign inattentiveness.

"You wouldn't." Sora gasped, pinning me like a butterfly to a corkboard with his shaken, accusing gaze.

"Do you really know me so well, Sora?" I demanded wickedly, effortlessly throwing a devil may care smirk into the equation.

"Of course I do, you've subjected me to your terrible acting for years now, so it's not exactly difficult to recognise." He scoffed, still bristling due to the threat. He wasn't going to pull his punches; the sugar was too precious to him.

"Sounds like someone's sulking because he's going to have to buy his own supper…" I growled in response, implicitly knowing which buttons to push in return. Not that this was a difficult task when it came to Sora, the boy was so open and outspoken it was hard not to know what was going on in his equally straightforward mind.

"Speaking of supper, I do believe someone owes me a meal ticket." He beamed, "And I do intend that you make good on your promise! So, Rikku, Mr. Gippykins, it has been a delight, and I hope that we can reacquaint ourselves when next we meet!" He chirped, before hooking a slender arm through the crook of one of mine.

I turned haunted, lamp-like eyes on the two gaping blondes, who simply stood and watched as I was dragged to my impending mutilation. Rikku finally regained enough sense to wave.

"Who are you and what have you done with Sora?" I asked suspiciously, wondering whether this pod person was aware of how wrong it had sounded with a proper mastering of speech.

"Funny boy…" The brunette replied with a distinctly not amused eye-roll.

"Fine, if you're really Sora, then you'll be able to answer my question… A question no other human being knows the answer to." I stated deviously, quirking an eyebrow as the boy sighed at my strange behaviour. Ok… now all I needed was a question. Damn my lack of foresight! "What is my cat called?" I questioned, attempting to conceal my humiliation at such a naff question with traditional superiority. Sora continued to stare at me as if I had grown another head.

"Riku, the only pet you've ever owned in your life was a rock, and you accidentally killed that by mistaking it for a skipping stone. It now resides in Davy Jones' Locker, after bouncing a grand total of six times." He stated nervously, scanning my expressions as if he could get a heads up before I started shrieking about garden centres.

"Ok, I believe you, you're Sora. What the hell was all that about though?" I asked worriedly, not knowing what to do with this eerily tranquil Sora who was hauling me down the street with no apparent discomfort or effort whatsoever.

"Professor Highwind had just turned the corner. He is NOT harpooning you Riku, not today!" He declared vehemently, before turning in mid-step to grin at me.


"Ah… he seems to have reached his destination." Sora concluded, albeit rather redundantly. My eyes widened as my ears caught a particularly graphic and imaginative curse.

Was that even possible?

We arrived at the shopping centre a short while later, occasionally glancing over our shoulders to confirm that Cid hadn't chosen us to be his next targets for extermination or castration.

When I say 'shopping centre', it's probably more accurate to clarify that it's just a stand of shops and boutiques and outlets and so on and so forth, wearing the guise of an organised unit of edifices. The only area that seemed even vaguely structured was the repast district, and that was only because yet another chain of indiscriminate coffee shops had practically bought out every lease on the whole street.

I ignored the nagging feeling in my chest, which was sulkily demanding that I address the whole issue of 'the kiss', in favour of throwing myself wholeheartedly into my latest mission.

"So, where exactly do we commence our search for the perfect present?" Sora asked amusedly, upon witnessing my near stalker-ish perusal of all of the shops in the immediate vicinity.

"That one." I stated firmly, gesturing over to what appeared to resemble a typical toy store. Whatever the heck it was, and I couldn't see any neon sign with a forthcoming name, probably because I was far too lazy to look, it seemed to cater exclusively to the under-fives, which fitted my specifications nicely.

I dragged the protesting boy –for which self-respecting fifteen year-old male would enter a shop that sold maternity wear under any circumstances that didn't involve duress?- through the heavy double doors, and prepared to begin the hunt.

It didn't take long. After speedily perusing the shelves and shrugging off help from peppy members of staff, who seemed rather concerned as to my presence in such a shop, a pair of glinting blue eyes caught my own, and the rest was history.

I closed in on the auburn afro of the doll, gazing blankly at me through its ironed-on eyes, pursing his stitched lips and puffing out his chubby rosy cheeks. He was perfect.

"Riku, why are we stopping here? I don't like the doll section! They scare me!" He whined, clutching at the back of my t-shirt as if I would protect him from their perturbing, emotionless, dead-eyed stares. "As do clowns…" He added as an afterthought.

"Sora, meet Puddle."